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    Superfood Season

    The new year brings revved-up interest in nutritionally potent produce

    By Jennifer Strailey

    What exactly is a “superfood”? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and wellbeing.” And that’s just what consumers want more of, especially this time of year.

    According to Google Trends, searches for “superfoods” have spiked in the month of January since 2005, Bloomberg/Businessweek reports.

    The seasonal surge in interest — no doubt sparked by New Year’s resolutions — spells opportunities for produce departments looking to boost sales of everything from kale to sweet potatoes to pomegranates in 2015.

    All Hail Kale

    If you think that kale has jumped the shark, think again. On Oct. 1, 2014, the second annual National Kale Day, Nielsen tweeted that U.S. sales of kale increased 56.6 percent between 2009 and 2013.

    National Kale Day was created by kale ambassadors Drew Ramsey, M.D., and chef Jennifer Iserloh, authors of the book “50 Shades of Kale” (HarperWave 2013), who brought together consumers, chefs, nutritionists, doctors and farmers to help launch National Kale Day in 2013.

    “National Kale Day has helped kale sustain momentum and join together an audience of passionate consumers, but most importantly, more people than ever are trying kale,” says Ramsey. “From 300,000 kale salads served in New York City public schools to the all-kale menu at Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis, we’ve had a lot of fun helping people celebrate kale through purely grass-roots efforts.”

    What makes kale a superfood? “Kale just tops the chart with absorbable nutrients per calorie,” continues Ramsey, who explains that the dark leafy greens have more calcium than milk and contains 607 percent of the RDA of vitamin K per cup of raw leaves. Kale also contains iron, magnesium, folate, vitamins A and C, and manganese.

    With such compelling nutritional selling points, Ramsey forecasts continued growth for the vegetable.

    “Kale is one of the great waves that the health movement and superfoods are surfing. We are being led back to healthy eating by plants, and kale is such a great example of how plant-based diets work,” he says.

    In an effort to keep pace with demand, the United States grew a record crop of kale this past year, but even that may not have been enough. “With the popularity of juicing and eating for health — I mean, there was a blip in the kale seed supply, and people freaking panicked!” exclaims Ramsey. “I think we are just getting started.”

    Indeed, kale appears in products in every area of the supermarket, from center store to frozen foods, not to mention produce.

    “Retailers are selling more kale than ever before,” affirms Ramsey, pointing to companies like Pelion, S.C.-based Walter P. Rawl and Sons Inc., with its Nature’s Greens Kale Chip Kits featuring ready-to-bake kale with chili and lime seasoning, and San Miguel Produce, of Oxnard, Calif., with its SuperKALE salads. Both are “just a couple of examples of products that are making kale accessible for consumers,” notes Ramsey.

    When Earthbound Farm, of San Juan Bautista, Calif., launched its Kale Italia, it did so as a test, without a significant supply behind it. “We got such a huge demand for it that we immediately ramped up production,” says Samantha Cabaluna, VP marketing and communications.

    “I think superfoods are very attractive to consumers,” she asserts. “Just the name promises so much, right? People want superfoods that are convenient and delicious — superfoods without sacrifice, so to speak.”

    Passion for Pomegranates

    Antioxidant-packed and fiber-rich pomegranates are also high in vitamins C and K, as well as vitamin B5, which helps the body metabolize protein, carbohydrates and fats. All of this undoubtedly factored into Men’s Health magazine’s crowning pomegranates one of the “40 Best Age-Erasing Superfoods.”

    Los Angeles-based Pom Wonderful has experienced the rise in consumer demand and sales of pomegranates first-hand. “The arils category grew more than 10 percent [according to IRI data] during the 2013 pomegranate season [October 2013-January 2014],” notes Dahlia Reinkopf, senior director of marketing for Pom Wonderful.

    “Pom Poms Fresh Arils led that growth, with more than 20 percent increase over prior year,” she adds. “Our Wonderful variety pomegranates also outgrew the category, reaching more than two-thirds of the market share and adding more than 1 million new households since prior year.”

    To capitalize on the popularity of pomegranates, pomegranate juice and pomegranate teas, Pom Wonderful introduced Pom Antioxidant Super Teas this past fall. The new flavors, which join Pom’s Pomegranate Peach Passion White Tea, are Pomegranate Lemonade Tea, Pomegranate Sweet Tea and Pomegranate Honey Green Tea.

    Additionally, for the first time in three years, Pom Wonderful returned to television this past October, with “Crazy Healthy” commercials. Designed to resonate with consumers who’ve made New Year’s resolutions to get healthier, the campaign features four spots highlighting the antioxidant power of Pom Wonderful Pomegranate Juice.

    The campaign, which includes national network and cable television, with more than 3,000 broadcast prime, late-night and cable spots, aired 400 ad spots in the first week alone. These equated to more than 150 million impressions.

    By Jennifer Strailey
    • About Jennifer Strailey Progressive Grocer's contributing editor covering the produce industry, Jennifer Strailey has been writing about food and beverages for business-to-business publications for more than 15 years. She has been writing for PG since 2010.

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